Larson muscles to a chaotic Cup victory at Fontana

The reigning NASCAR Cup Series champion Kyle Larson outlasted the field through a four-lap shootout and through a series of carnages to win the WISE Power 400 at Auto Club Speedway on Sunday, February 27, in NASCAR’s return to Fontana, California.

Larson, a 29-year-old native from Elk Grove, California, led four times for 28 of 200 laps and received a stellar pit stop from his pit crew with less than 10 laps remaining before fending off Austin Dillon, Erik Jones, Daniel Suarez and Joey Logano through the final four laps to collect his second victory at Auto Club Speedway and his first NASCAR Cup victory of the 2022 season.

Qualifying determined the starting lineup on Saturday, February 26, as rookie Austin Cindric, winner of this year’s Daytona 500, notched his first Cup career pole with a pole-winning lap at 174.647 mph. Joining him on the front row was Erik Jones, who earned his first front row starting spot since Texas Motor Speedway in November 2019.

Prior to the event, Kevin Harvick, Kyle Larson, Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano and Bubba Wallace dropped to the rear of the field due to unapproved adjustments to their respective machines. In addition, all competitors had a respective crew member ejected from the event. Justin Haley also dropped to the rear of the field due to an oil cooler change along with Ross Chastain, who competed in a back-up car after wrecking his primary car on Saturday.

Another driver that was penalized prior to the event was Kurt Busch, whose No. 45 Monster Energy Toyota TRD Camry failed pre-qualifying inspection three times on Friday, February 25, and was forced to serve a pass-through penalty through pit road at the start of the event. In addition, David Bryant, Busch’s car chief, was ejected from the event. 

Following a five-wide salute from the field to the fans and when the green flag waved as the race commenced, Cindric and Jones battled dead even for the lead as Jones took an early command entering the backstretch. 

When the field returned to the frontstretch, Erik Jones, piloting the No. 43 FOCUSfactor Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 led the first lap while Cindric settled in second in front of Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch. By then, Kurt Busch served his pass-through penalty and was able to remain on the lead lap. 

By the second lap, Jones maintained a healthy advantage over Cindric. Behind, Tyler Reddick challenged Hamlin for third place as Ryan Blaney moved up to fifth while Kyle Busch dropped to sixth.

Three laps later, Jones was leading by nearly a second over Cindric, who had Reddick close in for the spot. Blaney and Hamlin were in the top five followed by Chase Elliott, William Byron, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Daniel Suarez and Martin Truex Jr. while Kyle Busch continued to fall back in 11th ahead of Daniel Hemric.

By Lap 10, Jones continued to lead by while Reddick and Blaney were up in second and third.

A lap later, however, Reddick muscled his No. 8 Lenovo Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 to the lead.

On Lap 15, the first caution of the event flew when Kyle Busch, who was running in 11th place, spun his No. 18 Interstate Batteries Toyota TRD Camry in the backstretch, though he continued without sustaining any significant damage. 

With Busch’s incident serving as the competition caution planned for Lap 20, the field led by Reddick pitted as Reddick exited with the lead followed by Byron, Elliott, Hamlin and Jones.

When the race restarted under green nearing the Lap 20 mark, Reddick maintained the lead ahead of Byron and Elliott as Elliott overtook teammate Byron to move into second while the field fanned out through the first two turns and through the backstretch. 

On Lap 23, Elliott muscled his No. 9 NAPA Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 to the lead. 

Through the first 30 laps of the event, Elliott was leading by more than a second over Reddick while Byron, Erik Jones and Stenhouse were in the top five. Blaney, Truex, Logano, Hamlin and Kyle Larson were in the top 10 while Cindric was back in 11th ahead of Christopher Bell, Alex Bowman, Chris Buescher and Hemric. Kyle Busch was mired back in 16th ahead of Cole Custer, Daniel Suarez, Michael McDowell and Brad Keselowski while Aric Almirola was in 21st ahead of Chase Briscoe, Kurt Busch, Corey LaJoie and rookie Harrison Burton. Kevin Harvick was mired in 26th ahead of Justin Haley, Ross Chastain, Austin Dillon and Bubba Wallace.

Then by Lap 35, Reddick reassumed the lead followed by Byron and Jones while Elliott, who scraped the outside wall near Turn 3 once on Lap 33 and again on Lap 35, was losing ground of the lead pack.

Not long after, Elliott’s race went from bad to worse as he spun through the backstretch and drew the second caution of the event. Meanwhile, Kyle Busch was on pit road as his No. 18 pit crew popped the hood up to diagnose overheating issues to Busch’s car.

Under caution, the field returned to pit road for serve as Reddick, who reported numbness to his left leg, retained the lead followed by Jones, Byron, Cindric, Stenhouse and Hamlin. By then, Christopher Bell remained on pit road as he was dealing with cooling issues to his car. Following the pit stops, Austin Dillon was penalized for speeding on pit road.

When the field restarted on Lap 42, Byron shoved Reddick as Reddick retained the lead briefly before Jones mounted a challenge on the inside lane. Through the backstretch, however, Jones lost the runner-up spot to Byron as Reddick maintained the lead. 

With the field fanning out, a five-car battle for the lead ensued as Reddick was ahead of Byron, Stenhouse, Jones and Truex.

By Lap 50, Reddick was leading more nearly two seconds over Byron, who remained engaged in a battle with Stenhouse for the runner-up spot. Jones was in fourth followed by Joey Logano while Truex was back in seventh behind Blaney’s No. 12 Wurth Ford Mustang. Briscoe, Cindric and Hamlin were in the top 10.

Then on Lap 52, Truex, who was, got loose entering the backstretch and scraped the outside wall as he was narrowly avoided by Cindric. The caution then returned when Josh Bilicki spun in Turn 2.

Under caution, the leaders returned to pit road as Reddick received another stellar pit stop from his No. 8 crew to retain the lead followed by Byron, Jones, Kurt Busch and Briscoe. During the pit stops, Blaney endured a slow pit stop for a second time as he exited in the top 20 after pitting from third place. Following the pit stops, however, Kurt Busch was sent to the rear of the field for speeding on pit road. In addition, Kevin Harvick pitted for a second time.

On Lap 57, the race restarted under green as Reddick and Jones occupied the front row. At the start, Reddick received another boost from Byron’s No. 24 AXALTA Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 to retain the lead ahead of Jones and the field fanning out through the backstretch. 

At the Lap 60 mark, Reddick was leading by half a second over Jones while Byron, Briscoe and Kyle Larson were in the top five. 

When the first stage concluded on Lap 65, Reddick claimed his first stage victory of the 2022 Cup Series season and the fifth of his career after fending off Jones. Byron settled in third followed by Briscoe and Larson while Alex Bowman, Logano, Blaney, Cindric and Stenhouse were scored in the top 10. 

Under the stage break, the leaders pitted as Reddick exited with the lead followed by Briscoe, Byron, Larson and Bowman. Following the pit stops, rookie Todd Gilliland lost a right-front wheel and returned to pit road.

The second stage started on Lap 73. At the start, Reddick and Briscoe battled dead even through the backstretch as Larson joined the battle. When the field returned to the frontstretch, Larson led a lap for himself before Briscoe moved his No. 14 Mahindra Tractors Ford Mustang to the lead followed by Reddick.

By Lap 76, Reddick mounted a challenge to regain the lead against Briscoe, but was unable to complete his task as Briscoe maintained the top spot. 

Through the first 80 laps of the event, Briscoe was leading by nearly four-tenths of a second over Reddick while Byron, Logano and Larson were in the top five. Blaney, Hamlin, Bowman, Erik Jones and Cindric were in the top 10.

On Lap 86, Kyle Busch pitted under green after sustaining a flat left-rear tire. By the time he returned on the track, he was mired in 36th place and six laps behind the leaders.

Four laps later, the caution flew when Bell spun his No. 20 Rheem Toyota TRD Camry in Turn 4. In the midst of Bell’s spin, teammate Denny Hamlin steered his No. 11 FedEx Toyota TRD Camry to pit road as he reported overheating issues. At the moment of caution, Briscoe continued to lead by more than half a second over Reddick while third-place Byron trailed by more than three seconds. Blaney and Logano were in the top five ahead of Jones, Larson, Cindric, Bowman and Brad Keselowski.

Under caution, the leaders returned to pit road as Reddick entered and exited in first place followed by Briscoe, Byron, Blaney, Cindric and Logano.

On Lap 96, the race restarted under green. At the start, Reddick received another strong push from Byron to take the lead on the outside lane while Briscoe fell back to second ahead of Byron and the field.

While Reddick retained the lead ahead of Byron, a multi-car battle for third place ensued as Larson moved into the top-three followed by Logano, Briscoe, Blaney, Erik Jones and Cindric while Bowman and Austin Dillon were in the top 10.

At the halfway mark on Lap 100, Byron moved into the lead over Reddick as Larson retained third place ahead of Logano and Briscoe. While Blaney was in sixth, Jones and Cindric, both of whom rubbed fenders in Turn 1 a lap earlier, were in seventh and eighth while Bowman and Cole Custer were in the top 10.

Eleven laps later, the caution flew when Chris Buescher spun and backed his No. 17 Fastenal Ford Mustang into the outside wall entering Turn 2.

Under caution, the field pitted and Reddick reassumed the lead followed by Larson, Jones, Custer, Keselowski and Cindric. Meanwhile, Briscoe, who pitted as the leader, exited in 17th place after enduring a slow pit stop.

When the field restarted on Lap 115, Reddick and Jones battled for the lead through the first two turns and through the backstretch as Jones moved into the lead. Then just as the field returned to the start/finish line, Keselowski, who was battling for a spot in the top five, got sideways and spun in Turn 4 as the caution flew. In the midst of the spin, Keselowski was narrowly missed by ex-teammate Logano and Hamlin.

On Lap 121, the race restarted under green. At the start, Jones utilized the inside lane to his advantage for a second time to retain the lead. Shortly after, Reddick challenged and reassumed the lead from Jones as Logano moved up to third place followed by Larson, Custer, Blaney and Cindric. Meanwhile, Byron was back in the top 10 while Briscoe was mired in 16th.

With the laps in the second stage dwindling, Reddick extended his advantage to more than a second over Jones while Logano, Larson and Blaney were in the top five. 

When the second stage concluded on Lap 130, Reddick captured his second stage victory of the season. Jones settled in second followed by Logano, Blaney, Larson, Custer, Cindric, Almirola, Byron and Hamlin.

Under the stage break, the leaders returned to pit stop as Reddick retained the lead followed by Jones, Larson, Custer and Hamlin.

With 64 laps remaining, the final stage started under green. At the start, Reddick retained the lead while Logano moved up to second in front of Jones. Entering Turn 4, Aric Almirola got sideways, but he straightened his car below the apron and the race remained under green.

At the front with 60 laps remaining, Reddick remained as the leader by more than a second over Logano, who had Erik Jones challenging him for the runner-up spot. Bowman, a former winner at Auto Club Speedway in 2020, was in fourth followed by Blaney while Custer and Byron battled for sixth place. Behind, Hamlin, who made light contact with the outside wall, was in eighth ahead of Cindric, Austin Dillon, Larson and Daniel Suarez.

Down to the final 50 laps of the event, Reddick, who withstood repeated challenges from Jones, continued to lead by nearly seven-tenths of a second over Jones’ No. 43 Chevrolet while Logano settled in third place as he trailed by more than three seconds. Behind, Blaney overtook Bowman for fourth, Byron was in sixth ahead of Custer, Larson was in ninth and Cindric was in 11th. Briscoe, meanwhile, was mired in 22nd behind teammate Kevin Harvick.

A lap later, Reddick’s strong, prominent run towards a possible first Cup victory evaporated when he cut a left-rear tire and fell off the pace entering Turns 1 and 2. Then while Reddick was limping towards the outside wall, he was sideswiped by Byron, which sent both cars into the outside wall as Byron’s No. 24 Chevrolet came to a rest below the apron while Reddick limped back to pit road. In the midst of the turn of events, Jones returned to the lead followed by Logano, Blaney, Bowman and Custer.

Under caution for the incident, the leaders returned to pit road as Jones edged Bowman to retain the lead followed by Logano, Larson, Bowman and Elliott.

With 44 laps remaining, the race restarted under green. At the start, Logano emerged with the lead for the first time as Larson overtook Jones for the runner-up spot in front of the field fanning out. 

During the following lap, the caution returned when Bubba Wallace made contact with Keselowski in Turn 2, which sent Keselowski sideways and sparked a multi-car wreck that involved Wallace, Harrison Burton and Cindric. Under caution, some led by Logano remained on the track while the rest pitted.

With 35 laps remaining, the field restarted under green. At the start, Logano blocked and maintained the lead over Larson. Shortly after, Larson made his way to the front over Logano as Jones, Elliot and Blaney battled for third place.

With 30 laps remaining, Larson was leading by less than a second over Blaney while Logano, Elliott and Bowman were in the top five. Meanwhile, Ross Chastain was in sixth place in a back-up car while Jones, Austin Dillon, Hamlin and Daniel Suarez were in the top 10. 

A few laps later, the caution returned when Chastain, who was running in the top 10, spun in Turn 4. Under caution, nearly the entire field returned to pit road for service and Elliott exited first followed by Bowman, Larson, Logano, Austin Dillon and Daniel Suarez. Back on track, Briscoe remained on the track to inherit the lead.

With 22 laps remaining, the field restarted under green. At the start, teammates Larson and Elliott overtook Briscoe entering the first turn before Larson assumed the lead while Logano joined the party. 

During the following lap, Bowman, who was running in the top five, pitted after making contact with the outside wall. At the front, Logano and Larson dueled for the lead as Elliott tried to overtake both. Then in Turn 4, Larson moved up and ran his teammate Elliott into the outside wall as Elliott began to fall off the pace. With Elliott out of contention, Austin Dillon appeared in third place followed by Daniel Suarez, Hamlin and Erik Jones.

With 15 laps remaining, Larson was leading by half a second over Logano while Austin Dillon, Suarez and Jones were in the top five. By then, names like Harvick, Stenhouse and Michael McDowell were in the top 10 while Cindric, Kurt Busch, Haley, Almirola and Daniel Hemric were in the top 15. 

Down to the final 10 laps of the event, Larson extended his advantage to more than two seconds over Logano while Austin Dillon Dillon, Jones, Blaney, Suarez, Hamlin, Stenhouse, Harvick and Cindric were in the top 10. 

Then a lap later, the caution flew when Elliott spun in Turn 2. Under caution, the leaders pitted and Larson exited with the lead followed by Suarez, Logano, Austin Dillon and Jones.

With four laps remaining, the race restarted under green. At the start, a three-car battle ensued between Larson, Suarez and Logano for the lead for a full lap. Then with three laps remaining, Larson led at the line before Suarez received a push from Erik Jones to boost to the lead entering the backstretch. 

Suarez, however, lost the lead entering the frontstretch after Larson gained an advantage and reassumed the lead with two laps remaining, where he brought Austin Dillon with him.

When the white flag waved and the final lap started, Larson was ahead by three-tenths of a second over Austin Dillon as Erik Jones challenged Suarez for third place. Behind, Justin Haley got turned and spun through the infield grass as he pounded the inside wall. 

With the race remaining under green, Larson continued to lead ahead of a hard-charging Dillon. Through Turns 3 and 4, Dillon mounted a final lap charge through the inside lane, but it was too little, too late as Larson took the checkered flag by less than two-tenths of a second ahead of Austin Dillon.

In addition to claiming his second victory at Auto Club Speedway, Larson notched his 17th NASCAR Cup Series career victory and his 11th driving the No. 5 HendrickCars.com Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 for Hendrick Motorsports as he begins his pursuit to defend his series championship.

“It’s always fun here to win at the home state,” Larson said on FOX. “Hard work all weekend there. [I] Didn’t feel great in practice yesterday. [Crew chief] Cliff [Daniels] and everybody made some good adjustments overnight and the car handled a lot better. There was definitely some guys that were quicker than us, but they had their misfortunes. Just kept our heads in it all day. Long race. [The] Restarts were crazy. The whole runs were crazy, so definitely wild, but cool to get a win here at California. Hopefully, we get on a little streak. ”

Austin Dillon settled in second place while Erik Jones and Daniel Suarez delivered strong results of third and fourth place. Logano settled in fifth place. 

“We’re going to win a few races very soon here,” Suarez said. “I just can’t thank everyone enough on my team. We had a fast car, but we went through a lot of adversity. We had a few issues. We hit the wall once. We had an issue with a diffuser. My pit crew, those guys are legends, it’s unbelievable. It’s the best pit crew I’ve ever had, and it’s a lot of fun to race like that. The Freeway Insurance Chevrolet, everyone that helps Trackhouse [Racing] out, to be able to be here and perform this way… I can tell you that I’m going to work very, very hard to go to Victory Lane very, very soon here.”

Almirola, Harvick, Kurt Busch, Hemric and Stenhouse completed the top 10 on the track.

Cindric, the pole-sitter, finished 12th in front of Martin Truex Jr. while Kyle Busch rallied from falling six laps behind the leaders to finish 14th in front of teammate Denny Hamlin. Briscoe, Blaney and Wallace finished 16th, 18th and 19th, Reddick settled in 24th and Elliott ended up in 26th place in between teammate Bowman and Keselowski.

There were 32 lead changes for nine different leaders. The race featured a record-tying 12 cautions for 59 laps.

Following his 12th-place result, Austin Cindric continues to lead the regular season standings by eight points over teammate Joey Logano, 12 over Martin Truex Jr., 15 over Ryan Blaney, 16 over Chase Briscoe and 17 over Erik Jones.

Results.

1. Kyle Larson, 28 laps led

2. Austin Dillon

3. Erik Jones, 18 laps led

4. Daniel Suarez 

5. Joey Logano, 14 laps led

6. Aric Almirola

7. Kevin Harvick, one lap led

8. Kurt Busch

9. Daniel Hemric

10. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

11. Cole Custer

12. Austin Cindric

13. Martin Truex Jr. 

14. Kyle Busch

15. Denny Hamlin

16. Chase Briscoe, 20 laps led

17. Ty Dillon

18. Ryan Blaney, one lap led

19. Bubba Wallace

20. Todd Gilliland

21. Garrett Smithley

22. BJ McLeod

23. Justin Haley

24. Tyler Reddick, one lap down, 90 laps led, Stage 1 & 2 winner

25. Alex Bowman, one lap down

26. Chase Elliott, two laps down

27. Brad Keselowski, two laps down

28. Corey LaJoie, two laps down

29. Ross Chastain, two laps down

30. Josh Bilicki, two laps down

31. Michael McDowell – OUT, Electrical

32. Cody Ware, 13 laps down

33. Harrison Burton – OUT, Accident

34. William Byron – OUT, Accident, 16 laps led

35. Chris Buescher – OUT, Accident

36. Christopher Bell – OUT, Engine

Next on the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series schedule is Las Vegas Motor Speedway, the second of the series’ three-race West Coast swing. The event is scheduled to occur on Sunday, March 6, at 3:30 p.m. ET on FOX.



The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of SpeedwayMedia.com.

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